Recent media articles have brought us a paradoxical mixture of the heady celebrations from anti-wind farm protestors; juxtaposed between cataclysmic warnings of impending earthquakes and poisoned water tables should the ‘frackers’ get their way.
We don’t want our glorious landscapes blighted by imposing wind farms (although I am one of the few who actually believe these structures to be beautiful creations that make me smile when I see them); and we don’t want hydraulic fracturing on our doorsteps either. My mind isn’t yet made up over the efficacy of fracking; although I will cautiously state that nothing I have read has sated my desire for reassurance yet.
Solar power then? Seems reasonable enough doesn’t it? A recent Which? report would seem to suggest that to make any kind of return, a home would need to be south facing with a roof elevation or panel tilt of 30 degrees. Assuming we all have such perfectly-positioned edifices, we can expect to make a profit on our investment in around 12-13 years (of around £81 per year). This of course doesn’t take into account maintenance or loss of returns had you invested your money elsewhere.
As a crude comparison – how effective is your boiler after 12-13 years? Will you be perhaps be requiring new, upgraded photovoltaic cells by that time… just as you were about to make a profit too? Hardly an indictment on the efficacy of solar power as an energy source though, is it? But at least we can feel smug for ‘doing our bit’…right up until the point you want to move home.
Ah – but what about solar farms? The Telegraph report suggests that we’re on a journey to a 6m hectare shortfall of land by 2030 to meet the projected growth in demand for food, energy and environmental protection. Food or solar power?
Still, we’ve got enough energy in the bag from our existing coal-fired power plants anyway – or at least we did have (just) until recent fires reduced capacity and increased our dependency on imported gas. Is it as bleak as Ofgem are warning?
We’ll soon know if their predictions of a power shortage in the 2015/16 winter are accurate. I note with enormous scepticism that a certain Labour leadership candidate has dangled the carrot of a reopening of coal mines in his proposed re-nationalisation of the energy sector; but mined coal needs operational power plants to supply.
But at least we have nuclear power to fall back on (don’t worry about the waste thing, though). The World Nuclear Association report into the UK’s nuclear capacity highlights that we have 16 reactors that are generating around 18% of our electricity – although all but one of these reactors will have been retired by 2023. How long does it take to build a nuclear reactor again?
So we have choices to make – we can wander blindly towards power shortages whilst making token lifestyle changes that will increase the nation’s health and wellbeing but do little to sate the growing thirst for power; or we can make some tough but necessary decisions as to where we want our power to come from.
Renewable or ‘clean’ energy isn’t necessarily clean – the energy for charging electric car batteries is still derived from coal-fired power stations; the magnets used in wind turbines are made from rare earth or radioactive materials; hydropower will have huge consequences on our fauna and flora. Conversely, nuclear energy doesn’t necessarily live up to its ‘dirty’ reputation (when there are no faults or unforeseen shutdowns).
Naturally there are drawbacks to any of our energy solutions; but unless we turn our backs on industrial and domestic advances, we must accept there is a price to pay for sustaining and increasing our energy demands.
I’m not attacking ‘nimbyism’ – I don’t want a nuclear reactor in my back yard as much as the next – but the energy solutions for the 21st and 22nd century will come at a cost to all of us in some way or another – and some of us will have to accept a cost to our surroundings if we are unfortunate enough to be domiciled in an area suitable for the siting of a renewable energy source.
The days of sustaining our green and pleasant land are no longer compatible with our quest to be energy self-sufficient. Don’t forget – energy and water security is a defence priority for good reason.
Drastically reduce our thirst for power, accept changes to our landscape and habitat, convert to biomass boilers on mass, or bury our heads in the sand whilst waiting for a better option. If not, then there’s always the option of oil and gas imports from Russia…
Where do you want to see your energy come from? Are you waiting for a ‘silver bullet’ of invention or policy to solve our problems? What energy source are you willing to accept in your back yard?
Matt is a columnist and author on all things freelance, engineering and consultancy – with rants and thought-provoking observations thrown in for good measure. He also runs a freelance consultancy in Lincoln; fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be his own boss after 16 years serving in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. His consultancy attracts and employs high quality engineers alongside the finest defence and business professionals. Matt is a Chartered Engineer, and avid reader and huge football fan.